Emily Ann Putzke
The rocking chair moans with age as I push back and forth with the tip of my toes. Splinters of wood dig into my elbows and I wonder, as I do every night, why on God’s green earth my aunt and uncle feel the need to keep the old rocker. The porch light flickers, casting murky shadows across the peeling floorboards as I stand up. The radio hums through the screen door, mingling with my uncle’s coughing and aunt’s clicking needles as she knits a scarf for my brother.
“Aunt Ida,” I’ve said countless times, “Hugh is in the boiling Pacific. What’s he going to need a scarf for?”
“Lucy, be a good girl and go read your book,” she says.
So every night I sit in the dilapidated rocking chair with a book while she knits scarves for the Eskimos she thinks live on the islands.
I’m about to pull open the screen door when something moves in the corner of my eye. I turn, but no one’s there. My heart pounds against my ribs like an Indian war drum. Thud, thud, thud. My hand finds the doorknob. I lift my book as a weapon with the other.
A voice slices through the still air. It’s Albert. I can’t see him, but I know his voice.
I let out a sigh of relief, but my thudding heart doesn’t subside. Actually, I think it beats faster. “Hi there stranger.”
“You’re out late.”
“So are you,” I reply to the shadow lingering on the bottom step. “I haven’t seen you in a while.”
The silence hangs over us like a thick morning fog.
“Do you want to come sit? Or are you here to see my uncle about something?” I prod around with my words, trying to lay a finger on why he’s here at this hour.
“Yeah, sure. I’ll come sit a spell.” The porch steps creak as he emerges from the shadows. Albert looks worn from a long day in the field, but he still has enough energy to toss me his signature smirk.
“Want to fly?” He asks.
I laugh. “Do you always start conversations this way, Albert?”
“Only with you, Lu.”
“Well, I’d fly if someone with lots of experience and expertise was with me.”
“Sadly reading books about airplanes doesn’t make you a skilled pilot. But thanks for the offer.”
Albert lifts his face to the sky, his dark eyes locked on the stars as if they held the answer to all his questions. “Don’t worry, Lu. I’d take real good care of you.”
He said it so sincerely, so softly. It catches us both off guard. I drop my eyes to stare at my bare feet. He clears his throat and leans against the railing. “You miss your brother.”
Tears burn my eyes at the mention of Hugh. I turn my face away, pretending to be very interested in a fraying string on the hem of my dress. “Yes, but he’ll be home before we know it.”
Albert lifts himself onto the the railing and picks at a piece of peeling paint. I want to tell him everything, all my fears that Ida and Frank won’t let me utter in their presence. But I can’t. He’s staring at me, staring hard, and I lose my nerve. I lift my hand to the doorknob once more. “I’ll go tell Ida and Frank that you’re here.”
“Wait,” he leaps off the railing, raking a hand through his hair. “Don’t do that. Not yet.”
My stomach somersaults and I grip the doorknob tighter. “Why not? Ida made a nice supper tonight. There’s some left over if you’re hungry.”
“When was the last time we took a walk through your fields, Lu?”
I shrug. “A long time, I guess. Not since Hugh was around. Ida and Frank won’t let me go anywhere with a male companion unless I have a chaperon.”
His hand moves to the back of his neck. “Is that a firm rule or just a suggestion?”
The light flickers above us. Bugs hum softly, drawn like magnets to the warm glow. “A firm rule,” I say, casting a glance through the screen door. I can still hear the radio crackling in the livingroom. Part of me wants to escape into the familiar where I don’t have to tangle out these emotions that were dumped on me the moment Albert stepped onto my porch … really, the moment he stepped into my life. The other half of me wants to take a chance because it knows what I’m too frightened to say.
“I was afraid of that,” he mumbles irritably, shoving his hands into his pockets. “I just … I just thought we could catch some fireflies you know? I don’t know. … that sounds stupid.” He turns to leave.
My hand drops from the doorknob. “It is a firm rule, Albert. But I think you’re the exception.”
He throws a smile over his shoulder. “Oh yeah?”
“Yeah.” I set my book beside the door and follow him down the rickety stairs. The moon hides behind a cloud, peeking out now and then to illuminate our path. The grass is soaked in dew, feeling fresh on my barefeet.
“Have anything to put the fireflies in?” I ask as we wander toward the field.
He reaches into his coat pocket, withdrawing a small jam jar.
“Well, you came prepared.”
“I was really hoping you’d say yes,” he says, playing with the lid. “Lu, I’ve been thinking a lot.”
“You? Thinking?” I tease, nudging him with my shoulder.
“Yeah, can you believe it?” He slows down his pace to match my short strides.
“What have you been thinking about?”
“Oh, lots of things. Like … like you for instance.”
My stomach flutters. A shaft of moonlight falls over us, so I take the chance to look at Albert. His hair is tousled but his jaw is firmly set. “Why?”
“I can’t leave without, you know, saying something.” He fingers the jar.
“Leaving for home, you mean?” Of course he doesn’t mean that. I know exactly what he means.
“Hey, look!” Albert grabs my elbow, pointing to a blinking light that is dancing through field. We stand there, shoulder to shoulder as the firefly begins to wander away. Suddenly Albert drops his hand and rushes after it, lurking behind the creature with hovering hands.
“You look like you’re trying to murder it,” I laugh, running up beside him. “You need to have a gentle touch. Watch.” I tenderly put my hand into the grass and catch the light between my fingers. Albert leans down, putting his hand over mine to entrap the firefly.
“Wouldn’t you know it? The lady is always right.” He looks up at me, though I can barely make out his face in the darkness. But I know that tone. He’s grinning.
We’re kneeling in the wet grass now as we slip the firefly into Albert’s jar. I hold the cool glass and watch as the poor thing bangs against the sides in a desperate attempt to escape. Albert leans back on his elbows, breathing deeply. “I wish we could stay like this forever.”
I lean back to, gazing up at the stars that are peppered throughout the endless sky. “Weather permitting of course,” I smile over at him.
“I’d stay out here in all weather …. rain, snow, hail ….”
“Sure you would.”
“I would. If were you beside me.”
I sit up, moving the glowing jar so I can see Albert’s face. “I’ve never heard you talk like this before. Did your sister lend you one of her sappy poetry books?”
“No. I stole them.” He sat up to, taking the jar from my hand. “What do you say? Should we let him go home?”
He was changing the subject so rapidly that I couldn’t think straight. Albert held out his free hand to help me up. The hem of my dress was damp with dew and clung to the back of my knees.
“No, not yet. Let’s walk a bit further and find him a friend.”
Albert bumps into my shoulder. “What? You the one who didn’t even want to go on this walk in the first place.”
I shove him back. “I never said that.”
“Well, you implied it.”
“Inching toward the door like I was some creep.”
I didn’t say anything for a long moment. Crickets chirped in the brush to our right while a pair of bats dove through the sky searching for dinner.
“Maybe I am scared of you,” I say, though I can’t believe I just said it. I dig my fingernails into my palms. What an idiot.
“What?” He stops walking and turns to look at me.
I take a few steps ahead of him, hoping I don’t have to explain. I’m too nervous. I’m not ready. I decide to try an Albert move and change the subject. “Wanna race through that field?” I point to the tall grass dancing under the wind’s fingertips. The blades of grass shimmer in the moonlight.
He sets down the jar and closes in the space between us until he’s at my side. “What do you mean you’re scared of me, Lu? What have I done to make you feel that way?”
He’s staring into my eyes with such despair that I can’t bear it. I drop my gaze.
“Lu?” He lifts my chin with his thumb so I’m looking at him again. “Do you want me to leave? ‘Cause I’ll go if I make you uncomfortable. I just thought … I thought there was something between us, you know? Is there? Or did I just imagine the whole thing?” He drops his hand.
“No, please, that’s not what I mean. I’ve always liked you, Albert. I’m just …” I swallow back my fear. “I’m just utterly terrified to tell you … how much I like you. ”
Albert studies me for a long moment, then begins to laugh. To laugh, of all things!
“Gosh, is that all? You had me worried, Lu.” He ruffles my hair playfully.
“It wasn’t exactly an easy thing to say, Albert. I’m not sure if,” I drop my voice to a nervous whisper, “if you feel the same way.” My face is flushed, and I’m thankful for the cloak of darkness.
He leans in and kisses my cheek. “Yeah, kid. I feel the same way. I thought you knew that since day one.”
He rubs my arms with a smile. “Ah well. You know now.”
I stare up at him, a heavy weight still crushing my heart. “Albert, I know you’re leaving. Why don’t you just say it?”
He turns his face away, staring off into the darkness. He drops his hands and buries them in his pockets.
“I tried to be indifferent toward you because I knew it was just a matter of time before you joined up. It was working for a while. But gosh, Albert, you ruined all my hard work tonight.” I turn away, watching the grass bend in the wind.
“Yeah, well, I was trying to do the same thing. That’s why I haven’t been around much. But, I don’t know, I just had to set things right before I leave. Can’t really face some dang Nazis if I can’t even tell you how I feel.” He holds out his hand and I take it, lacing my fingers through his. He stares at me for a long moment, as if trying to remember every detail. “Will you wait for me, Lu?”
I squeeze his hand and lift my head to the sky, relishing a sweet summer breeze as it plays with my hair. “Yeah, Albert. I’ll wait for you.”
He leans over and picks up the jar he had abandoned. I watch as he turns the lid, letting the firefly dance through the fields towards home.